Sexual Harassment, Cancellation Culture, Anonymous Accusers, And Placido Domingo

A report last week revealed that nine women accuse towering opera figure Placido Domingo of sexual harassment.  None of the accusations have been investiaged or substantiated, and only one of them isn’t anonymous. Yet two American institutions, the Philadelphia Orchestra and the San Francisco Opera, immediately canceled their upcoming concerts with him, giving the now-familiar “safe environments” explanation. None of. Domingo’s many upcoming scheduled performances in Europe were canceled, however, as sponsors took what the New York Times calls  “a wait-and-see approach,” or what used to be known in this country as “Let’s not punish someone based on unsubstantiated  accusations alone.” Or fairness. Due process. The Golden Rule.

There are countervailing factors pulling every which way. As I understand it, #MeToo  and “Time’s Up” insists that female accusers must be believed, unless the accused is the black, Democratic Party’s Lieutenant Governor of Virginia, or the harassment is caught on camera repeatedly, as in the case of the Democratic Party front-runner for President. In the arts, these allegations have had mixed effect. Conductor James Levine has not performed in public since he was fired by the Metropolitan Opera last year after accusations of sexually abusive and harassing conduct were substantiated in an investigation, but when Pixar chief and creative muse John Lasseter was fired for being a serial hugger (rather like that Democratic Party front-runner) he was rapidly snapped up by a rival studio that gave him as much power and more money. Go figure.

There is the anonymous factor: it is my long held position that an anonymous accusation relating to the workplace should be regarded as no accusation at all, meaning that there has been one allegation of sexual harassment against Domingo. An accused individual cannot address claims when he doesn’t know their source or facts. I have been the target of false anonymous accusations—not of harassment—in my career, and as a manager in various businesses and associations, I told staff that unless they were willing to go on the record with an accusation of wrongdoing, I didn’t want to hear it. It is too easy to destroy careers and reputations with false accusations with no accountability attached.

The other issue is the multiple accusation factor. In sexual abuse and harassment, there are no one-time offenders unless there has been a massive miscommunication. The typical scenario is that a single accusation triggers several, often many, more with near identical facts. This is why I did not believe Anita Hill and Dr. Blasey-Ford, and why I did believe Bill Cosby’s many accusers.

Timing is also important. Ancient accusations of sexual misconduct—I would say anything more than five years old is dubious—arriving after memories have faded, evidence has vanished and seemingly timed to do maximum damage to the accused should be treated with skepticism and a presumption of  bad will, especially when the accused is a public figure.

And yet… Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 8/9/2019: “I See Unethical People!” Edition

S-s-s-s-stretch those ethics muscles!

(although, to be fair, the items today don’t require much stretching…)

1. Rosie Ruiz, unethical icon, has died. Rosie Ruiz got her 15 minutes of fame—well, infamy—by briefly fooling officials and the media into believing she had won the 1980 Boston Marathon. “She jumped out of the crowd, not knowing that the first woman hadn’t gone by yet,” a source who Ruiz had confessed to told The Boston Globe. “Believe me, she was as shocked as anyone when she came in first.” She wasn’t even a skilled cheater.

Nonetheless, Ruiz maintained publicly that she had been robbed of a genuine victory, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. She even displayed her first place medal whenever possible.

Ruiz is an excellent example of how signature significance works. It would be nice to report that she went on from this one, impulsive, foolish scam and became a beloved and tireless worker for the common good. Uh, no. Cheating in a major athletic competition isn’t something anyone does who has functioning ethics alarms. Ruiz was charged in 1982 with grand larceny and forgery, accused of stealing cash and checks from the real estate firm where she had been a bookkeeper. This got her a week in jail and five years’ probation. In 1983,  she was arrested on charges of attempting to sell cocaine to undercover agents at a hotel in Miami and spent three weeks in jail. Continue reading

Terrifying Tales Of The Double Standard: Lena Dunham’s Unwanted Kiss

I suggest listening to this as background as you gaze at the picture…

Sexual harassment is unwelcome sexual advances in a workplace setting. Sexual assault is an uninvited or consented to touching of a sexual nature.

Outspoken feminist/writer/actress Lena Dunham decided to spontaneously kiss walk over toher “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” costar Brad Pitt and kiss him, at the Quentin Tarantino film’s London premiere.  I’m enjoying the media accounts—more on this below— that say she “appeared” to kiss him: what else could she be trying to do? Whisper in his mouth? Eat his lips?)

The photographic evidence makes it clear that the advance was unwelcome, indeed evoking  an exchange in “Singing in the Rain”: Continue reading

Saturday Ethics Warm-Up, 7/27/19: Updates And News!

Saturday morning came!!

At points yesterday I was beginning to have doubts…

1. A win’s a win, and right is right, but the ACLU outs itself again.  In the wake of the SCOTUS 5-4 decision to let stand the executive order reallocating funds for a wall to address the national emergency at the border and allow construction to commence, the ACLU flagged its own bias (though it is supposed to be non-partisan) by referring to the wall in a statement as “xenophobic.”

Its lawsuit was based on alleged environmental harm risked by the wall’s construction, but the use of that word, a deliberately dishonest characterization that can only mean an endorsement of open borders , proves that the lawsuit is a sham, using environmental concerns to mask a pro-illegal immigration agenda, which most of the public opposes….as they should.

Merits of the wall aside, the game Democrats are playing with this issue, calling for undefined “comprehensive immigration reform” while opposing enforcement and refusing to recognize a genuine emergency to keep the President from a political victory, is electoral suicide. (Yet most of the field of Democratic challengers have endorsed decriminalization of border breaching, which is like an invitation to invade. Madness. Even Hispanic-Americans oppose this.)

A blind pig can find a truffle or two, and on this existential issue, the President has law, history, sovereignty, the national interest and common sense on his side.

2.  A clueless harasser gets a second chance.   Neil deGrasse Tyson, the pop-culture astrophysicist who leads the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History, has been cleared to continue in his job  after the museum competed  an investigation into three sexual misconduct accusations against him. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 7/24/2019: More Wild Animal Ethics, And Wild Al Franken Follies

Good Morning!

That’s called “morning rush hour” in Yellowstone…

1. Child services, please! Recalling the scofflaw fool who was kicked in the cajones by a wild horse he was supposed to avoid touching, we have this story in the Washington Post, about a bunch of tourists who defied Yellowstone National Park rules until this happened…

Wow! That’s the gold medal in the Bison Olympics “Little Girl Toss” for sure. She was treated and released, but her parents should be prosecuted. In the category of Rationalization #22, “There are worse things,” here’s a comment on the Post story, flagged by Ann Althouse:

I grew up about an hour outside of Yellowstone and have spent many happy years in the park. I now live on the east coast, but try to go back every few years. Every single time I’m in the park, I see people doing the stupidest, most dangerous things. The last time, I was leaving the Old Faithful Inn after supper and noticed a small herd of bison hanging around. (A very common sight) Not being a complete idiot, I decided to take a different path back to our campground, a path and would not take me near the bison. Then I noticed a man with his small child heading toward the herd. I stopped him and warned that he might want to stay away, particularly with his child. He told me to f-off and kept walking. I watched as he got very close to the first bison and then saw him pick up his child and start to try to put the kid on the back of the bison. A bunch of other people started shouting and I ran for a ranger. Thankfully, the ranger managed to stop the idiot before tragedy. Unusual? Not really!

2.  Can #MeToo survive progressive hypocrisy? Personally, I hope so. Sexual harassment is a massive problem; I keep telling my legal ethics audienbces that the legal profession’s Harvey Weinstein will be exposed any time now, and probably will lead to many Harveys-at-Law. However, the more the movement is weaponized for political expediency, the less credibility it has. Continue reading

What Is Justice For Kevin Spacey?

 Prosecutors in Massachusetts this week dropped a sexual assault charge against the actor Kevin Spacey, in the only case against the alleged serial sexual harasser to be brought to trial. Mr. Spacey was accused of fondling an 18-year-old man at a Nantucket restaurant three years ago, one of the few of the accusations against him that wasn’t too old to try and that involved criminal conduct. The accuser’s lawyer said that a smartphone being sought as evidence by the defense  had disappeared, then the accuser invoked the Fifth Amendment after being warned that he could be charged with a destroying evidence, a felony if he had deleted contents on his phone. When the young man continued to assert his right against self-incrimination,  the Cape and Islands district attorney announced that it was dropping the prosecution “due to the unavailability of the complaining witness.” There wasn’t much choice.

Spacey’s far from out of the metaphorical woods. Around the same time as the Nantucket accusation, the Old Vic theater in London announced that 20 people had  accused Spacey  of inappropriate behavior  during his 11-year stint as the theater’s artistic director. There is another investigation in Los Angeles.

So now what? None of the allegations against Spacey have been proven, though, as with Bill Cosby, the sheer number of them leave little doubt—but still some— that he is a serial sexual predator. Spacey’s own house of cards began falling when actor Anthony Rapp gave an  interview to BuzzFeed accusing Spacey of assaulting him at a party when Rapp was only 14.  The accusation was never proven, but suddenly more stories of sexual misconduct in the workplace and elsewhere started surfacing regarding Spacey. (There is a lot about Spacey’s conduct and problems on Ethics Alarms, here.) Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 6/25/2019: The Greatest Morning Warm-Up Ever Blogged!

The movie “The Greatest Story Ever Told” was far from the “Greatest Movie Ever Made,” as the Duke’s casting as a Roman soldier demonstrated vividly.

OK, not really, but it better be good after yesterday’s potpourri never made it off the launch pad due to a series of unfortunate events. I’m using “The Greatest Legal Ethics Seminar Ever Taught!” as a title for an upcoming program I’m writing now, so the rhetoric is on my mind. My teaching partner complained that the title really puts the pressure on us to be outstanding. And that’s the point…

1. Harvard’s new President punts. Of course. The Harvard alumni magazine this month was notably light on criticism of the Ronald Sullivan fiasco, with only two critical letters on the topic, one of which made the suggestion that it might be a “conflict of interest” for someone who is defending a #MeToo villain to also serve as a residential faculty member (what was previously called a “House Master,” but that triggered some delicate students who felt it evoked slave-holders. No really. I’m serious. I don’t make this stuff up. Organizations capitulate to these complaints now, like Major League Baseball changing the name of the “Disabled List” because disabled rights activists complained). It is assuredly NOT a conflict of interest, though, by any definition but an erroneous one.

Deeper in the magazine, we learn that new President of Harvard, Lawrence Bacow, was asked during a faculty meeting about his views on the episode. His response was essentially a Harvard version of Ralph Kramden’s immortal “huminhuminahumina” when “The Honyemooners” hero had no explanation for some fiasco of his own engineering. Bacow said he would respect “the locus of authority,” meaning College Dean Rakesh Khuratna, who fired Sullivan after joining in student protests over the law professor and lawyer doing exactly what lawyers are supposed to do.

So now we know that, not for the first time, Harvard is being led by a weenie. What should he have said?  How about “I am firing Dean Khuratna, and offering Prof. Sullivan his position back. Any Winthrop House students who feel  “unsafe” are welcome to transfer to Yale”?

Most news media gave inadequate coverage to this story, and none, in my view, sufficiently condemned the university’s actions or the un-American values they represent. At least the New York Times is keeping the episode before its readers by publishing an op-ed by Sullivan titled Why Harvard Was Wrong to Make Me Step Down.”

2. Insuring the life of a son in peril. Is this unethical somehow? It honestly never occurred to me. When I had to give a speech in Lagos, Nigeria, one of the most dangerous cites on Earth, my wife tried to take out a policy on my life with her as the beneficiary. I thought it was a good and prudent idea. But in Phillip Galane’s “Social Q’s” advice column, a son writes that he is still angry, decades later, that his late father did this , writing in part, Continue reading